Can you imagine owning a smartphone that wouldn’t slow down over time, with a battery that doesn’t decline to the point of uselessness, and that can be repaired if a part breaks? The Ten Year Smartphone campaign have been imagining just such a device:
You may or may not have caught it from the video, but you certainly would catch it if you clicked through to order the 10 Year Smartphone – it doesn’t exist.
This is a parody crowdfunding campaign from Right to Repair, drawing attention to the way that smartphones are designed to fail within a couple of years so that we have to keep replacing them. In many cases the whole phone has to be replaced if just one part fails, because it can’t be opened for repair, and no spare parts are available anyway.
Why shouldn’t you be able to keep your phone for four or five years rather than one or two? As the video points out, it wasn’t so long ago that you could open a phone and slip in a new battery. Why stop? But then the iPhone 13 just launched, less than a year after the iPhone 12. That’s why. There are phones to sell. There is only so much ‘innovation’ that happened between 12 and 13. It’s hardly going to be a giant leap forward. But it’s new. If you worship at the temple of Apple, you’ll be in the queue.
Sometimes accusations of planned obsolescence are exaggerated, but not in this case. The repair group iFixit rates the iPhone 13 and mediocre 5 out of 10 for repairability. It’s not because you can’t open the phone or swap parts. (iPhones are now built on a modular parts system, copying the model pioneered by Fairphone.) What iFixit’s engineers discovered is that Apple have written software that rejects new parts. So even though it’s relatively easy to put new parts in, you can’t, and that’s why iFixit called it “a new low for repairability”. It’s fairly obvious who is the design priority here, and it’s not the user.
There’s a high price to pay for this replacement rate – higher rates of resource extraction at one end, and higher heaps of waste electronics at the other. Both of those costs are paid by other people in other parts of the world, not by those most likely to get a new smartphone every year.
Some European countries are driving up standards on repairability – see the new ratings being adopted in France for example. Right to Repair have a series of proposals on that and a letter to sign, and the 10 Year Smartphone campaign has the details.